A Long Goodbye To Canada

Down at the Serpentine Swimming Club one January morning, as the last handful of bright pink bodies struggled back into their thermals and began the post-swim ritual of uncontrollable shivering, a chap named Roger made a memorable observation:

“Once you’ve s‑s-swum the winter season at the S‑s-serpentine, you’re s‑s-suddenly immensely liberated! B‑b-because you know that whenever you encounter water, as long as it’s still liquid… you can go for a s‑s-s-s-swim!”

Lake Crescent

Roger’s words came to my mind as I waded into the crystal clear meltwater of Lake Crescent in the north of Washington’s Olympic Peninsular under a rare blue sky. By any sensible standards the water temperature would be classified as absolutely flipping freezing, and I as a certifiable nutcase. But I’d put in the months of acclimatisation, and this made the spontaneous springtime dip — in a setting that would put Switzerland to shame — all the more sweet.

It was lunchtime on the first full day of riding, although it had been several days since we’d left Vancouver, as our departure had happened gradually, a chain of Ben’s ever-more-far-flung friends hosting us on our way through the north-west reaches of the city to Horseshoe Bay, then — after a ferry ride to Vancouver Island — in charming and mellow Victoria, BC’s administrative capital, at the southern end of the island. Ben’s four years in Canada had earned him a sprawling social network, which he’d now be leaving behind with no ticket home.

I’d been mildly concerned that the presence in my passport of multiple visas for Iran, Russia and places that don’t officially exist might cause problems with the American authorities, and I’d half-planned an alternative ride into the wild, empty north of Canada. Sure enough, there was an agonising wait at the border control as the computer system spent a full 6 minutes thinking about whether or not to allow me — the last passenger in line — to board the ship.

But a second attempt went through without delay, and in no time at all we’d crossed the narrow strait dividing the island from the Olympic Peninsular. We rolled up at the residence of U.S Coast Guard Service helicopter mechanic Evan in Port Angeles, Ben’s last housecall before the contact list ran dry and the open road would become our home.

It would be rude to pass up an opportunity to get up close with some gigantic pieces of cutting edge military hardware. So that’s exactly what we did.

USCGS chopper cockpit

We also went for a hike in the States’ only rainforest region — again, under mercifully clear skies. They wouldn’t last long.


Lunchtime swim done, Ben and I set about riding west and south on Highway 101 to Forks, a town of indescribable dreariness, famous for two things: being the wettest place in the entirety of the United States, and being the primary setting for the Twilight series of movies (although, as Ben tells me, they were actually filmed in Vancouver and Squamish, according to his ex-girlfriend’s eccentric band manager Jackson Rathbone who plays Edward’s brother Jasper, if you care about that sort of thing, as I don’t). I can report a smattering of forlorn Twilight-related tours and signposts along the town’s main strip, though no sign of any sexually-repressed teenage vampire lovers.

Twilight firewood - really?

Ben will now also remember Forks as the setting for his first post-cycling energy crash, rendering him sprawled and barely functional in a booth in one of the town’s few diners, slurping desperately on a chocolate & butterscotch milkshake, unable to consider riding any further, and at the same time being fully aware of the inevitability of doing so before the approaching darkness fell completely.

He will also remember his first taste of spontaneous hospitality, when Dustin invited us in for coffee after we asked about a place to pitch our tents, and provided directions to a state park campground just two miles away, where we could sleep safely — and, being still closed for the winter, sleep for free!

Campground lightshow

These everyday features of bicycle travel, so familiar to me, were a pleasingly appropriate setting of scene for the long-planned ride that would now begin to unfold.

My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe. Read more about the gear they’ve supplied.

Comments (skip to respond)

11 responses to “A Long Goodbye To Canada”

  1. Bruce Logan avatar
    Bruce Logan

    Hi Tom.
    I rode Adventure Cycling’s Sierra Cascades a couple of years ago. Quite tough for an old guy like me (74 and counting as they say). About 1000m of climbing a day? But a lovely ride, on my Bike Friday. I particularly enjoyed my stay in Bend where I was accommodated by the local sheriff (in his house, not the jail) and then given a tour of the County Jail next morning (I was at the time an independent monitor in the prison in Edinburgh and had my prison ID with me). Crater Lake was awesome, properly to use that overworked adjective. Last year I rode the 500 kms up Vancouver Island (one of my daughters lives in Victoria) and then took the ferry to Prince Rupert, over to Haida Gwai for a few days, back to the mainland and along the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George and over the Rockies, down the Icefields Parkway (very bumpy shoulder) to LL, Banff & Canmore, then back again to LL and over Kicking Horse Pass and eventually back to the Vancouver area. As it happens there was a helluva headwind (normal, I know) going west towards Abbotsford so I turned left and rode to Sumas over the US border and down to Anacortes for the ferry back to the Island. I had week to spare so decided to take the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. Goodness, US Immigration Officers gave me the 3rd degree. (Like you I have ridden in Nagorno Karabagh. Syria, too — just before armageddon, but that wasn’t the problem). When I had entered the US at Sumas the Immigration Officer there forgot to stamp my passport, so when I was leaving Victoria it appeared that I had entered or left the US illegally. Anyway, I managed to persuade the guy that I was kosher and got the ferry. I was really looking forward to a circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula but found it depressingly boring because of the permanent presence of so many trees close to the road. Never saw a hill to speak of. Indeed, rather like the 6 week tour I have just finished: having flown to Kirkenes and ridden south and through Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania & Poland. Having ridden in many countries I thought I had seen bad roads but some of the back roads in Latvia and Poland, nominally asphalt, were just awful. I was surprised that the frame of my Dave Yates didn’t fracture. In Nordics my favourite ride has been down the Norwegian coast from Kirkenes to Bergen, through the Lofoten Islands.
    I enjoy reading your various blogs etc, and will no doubt call again sometime.

  2. […] second would be the film of my and my brother Ben’s ride down the U.S. West Coast in 2012. Adventures aside, it’d be the story of two siblings getting to know each other again […]

  3. Hey! Nagorno-Karabakh exists! It just doesn’t have international recognition as an independent state 🙂 But I know you knew that (I just couldn’t let your comment go by without a word from me)!

    1. You know I know you knew I knew that 🙂

      Hulisin khandipenk!

      1. woo hoo! Can’t wait!

  4. Glad they let you and your dodgy passport into the country. Enjoy the coast!

  5. Yeahhh and next the unbelievably stunning Oregon Coast??

    1. Apparently so!

  6. lilalia avatar

    Tom, how exciting. Very much looking forward to your posts. Great time of year to given it a try. You’ll be bound to experience every type of fluke weather… hence the blue skies. Don’t know how you braved the lake swim. I’ve given it a try in summer time and couldn’t feel my legs after only fifteen seconds. You must have some Scottish blood in you.

  7. andy welch avatar
    andy welch

    liking the photos.

  8. A most enjoyable read. A baptism of fire for Ben’s first long distance road trip. I hope he is getting ‘into the zone’ and enjoying the experience.
    Take care. xx

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